So I Used To Work With This Guy Sometimes

Back in the 90’s when I was living my dirty New York City life I would occasionally pick up some modeling work here and there, and due to the social circles I was moving around in it was more or less inevitable the I would end up working with Terry Richardson eventually. Before anyone gets distracted by the almost fancy sounding phrase “social circles” let me clarify that it means I was living in a hotel with a bunch of cracked out club kids, working in nightclubs, and subsisting on a diet of opiates and sugar. The term “heroin chic” was on the verge of being coined for a very good reason, an attempt to justify our habits in a more acceptable context and keep working. It still amazes me that people got that to fly for as long as they did, but anyway, back to Terry.

When I met him Terry looked like he stepped straight out of a 70’s porn film, complete with pedobar mustache and cut off denim shorts. Actually he still looks like that, which I think may not be helping him out here because he has recently been accused of exploiting under age, or nearly underage models. He was well established when I worked with him, but certainly not the mega star he is now with a series of books released by Taschen, a host of campaigns for Gucci, Miu Miu, Pirelli, Tom Ford, and a million magazines added to his resume. I can say that when I worked with him he was always respectful and professional, but that was also on the cusp of everything turning really ugly in the scene and I know first hand how a combination of drugs, a position of power, and unlimited indulgence from those in authority can become a recipe for really bad things happening. I stumbled across his book Terryworld a few years later in some shop in London and remember flipping through it and not being able to really think past “um…wow”. I’ll just leave it at that.

For another take on it, one from an actual teenage girl (no direct contact with Mr. Richardson) I’ll refer you over to the very well produced fashion blog Style Rookie. She gets into the nuanced dynamics of power, in the fashion industry, the media, and between older men of influence and young women of little experience. Tavi’s pretty bad ass.

I had a hard time finding some of the images that represent the issue most pointedly because apparently he’s been doing his damndedst to remove them from the internest, though there are few explicit ones in the article I linked up at the top over there (I’m not sure I’ll look at a carnation the same way again), but here are a few that might give you an idea of where we are going with this.

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16 Responses to “So I Used To Work With This Guy Sometimes”

  1. I had always been curious about this guy, and hadn’t heard about the controversy. Thanks for the info. He always seemed a little scuzzy to me, so I guess I’m not surprised.

    • Toni Tiller Says:

      in retrospect i am not terribly surprised either. he was alright back then, but like i said, drugs, power, and unlimited indulgence usually lead to no good.

  2. jasongrayfineartist Says:

    If ego was a liquid, this guy’s could fill the Shedd Aquarium. On the other hand, he did manage to bring the aesthetics of photographers like Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, etc. to the traditional fashion spread, and I have to admit that I like quite a few of his pictorials. Can’t say I agree with his scuzzo-American version of “Blow-up” approach to being on the set with models, though. Did you get versions of the work that you did with him, Toni?

    • Toni Tiller Says:

      you know its funny because when i was thinking about all this in the pool (where i do all my thinking) i was pulling mental references for comparison and i came up with larry clark and nan goldin too, and to a lesser degree sally mann. i eliminated mann because she was directly related to her subjects and it was the implication of impropriety, not actual impropriety that landed her in controversy. so back to nandin, particularly the children belly dancing image that got so much press a few years back, but closer examination got her lumped in with similar results as mann. the children were innocently performing as children do, and goldin documented her friends and family as she always does. that left me clark. in his early tulsa days he was as much a part of the culture he was photographing as the subjects, straddling the line between observance and participation with his peers, similar in a sense to richardson, and even when he entered KIDS era work and was accused of exploiting young people there is still at least one major difference – his dick wasn’t in the mouth of any of the people he was working with. it’s that moment of contact that skews the whole thing a new direction, add in the fact that richardson is being paid 200k for the privilege and it adds a pretty powerful element. it puts him in a position of being able to play on these girls insecurities and have it be reinforced by an industry founded on that exact system.

      i don’t have any of the work i did with him – it was pre-digital, pre-internet, and we were all kind of flaky anyway.

      • jasongrayfineartist Says:

        All agreed, and that is why I posted this. For models, approaching the profession like it’s a business is step number one; the more you screen your business relationships, the better off you will be. Step two is having a voice and speaking up. The more women that tell Richardson, “Hell no”, the less this will happen (because no one will throw 200k down on a shoot that doesn’t occur). Great post, Toni.

  3. So much of what i read about the guy just makes him sound like such a skeezy self-centered creep. It’s interesting to hear how it was for you working with him back then. I wonder about the agencies who continue to book young girls for shoots with him and the companies who publish the work.

  4. I think the carnation shot is beautiful. The female anatomy has been compared to a flower since the beginning of time so I am confused as to why it is so disturbing to see it in flower form.

    And I think that a 14 year old girl’s opinion on the issue is a bit futile. She is probably yet to expose herself in any sexual way to anyone so of course the concept of graphic nudity is frightening. I think that being articulate on a blog and having actual life experience are two factors that are not really connecting with Tavi. I would be mortified if there was public recognition of my opinions as a 14 year old girl.

    • thanks for weighing in, Sadie. I think Toni (the author) is away without access to a computer for a while so she won’t be able to reply right away. So here’s my perspective.

      What people are taking issue with in regard to Richardson has to do with his behavior, not his work. The allegations are that he has and continues to used his position as a megastar fashion photographer to pressure young girls into sex acts. Regarding the photo you mention, the disturbing thing is not the actual photo of the flowering vagina. The disturbing thing is that the photo spread, which came out amidst this controversy, is of another naked underage girl with (most likely) Richardson’s fingers tugging at her nipple, Richardson’s grinning face between her legs and Richardson’s flower in her lady parts. He has shown nothing but disrespect for any of the people who have spoken up about their humiliating experiences with him. In light of that, these photos read almost like a big fuck you to anyone who questions his behavior.

      Also, I think suggesting that Tavi’s opinion on the issue is less valid because of her age is absurd. Not only is she an intelligent, thoughtful, well respected voice in the fashion world, but she’s also an underage girl. Who better to speak out for other young and underage girls?

  5. In regards to the comment above- I meant to say photo form, not flower. My apologies

  6. Vanilla-Vanilla Says:

    Christ alive…..

    I didn’t know much about Terry Richardson till now. After reading Toni’s post, I go to google and it’s like a f!cking rabbit warren.

    There can’t be smoke if there isn’t fire & this is one massive sleaze fire.

    It’s like women are clamoring everywhere to straighten the moral imbalance: if Tavi’s not talking, Tavi’s high fiving this blog for pouring acid on Terry, Jamie Pecks opening floodgates, this chicks telling us how to survive a shoot with him.

    It goes on, on, on, on, on, on, on, on & has me thinking this be the start of a female revolution.

    Great post Toni

  7. I’m the chick who wrote about how to survive a shoot with Richardson. Let’s hope this is some type of revolution.

  8. […] happened to be significant, and I was lucky to work with really talented people like Mario Testino, Terry Richardson, and Dale May. The truth is I am absolutely terrified of cameras, and I can be completely paralyzed […]

  9. […] happened to be significant, and I was lucky to work with really talented people like Mario Testino, Terry Richardson, and Dale May. The truth is I am absolutely terrified of cameras, and I can be completely paralyzed […]

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